Children’s Wisconsin gifted $2.5 million grant to provide mental health services in the ED

Amy Herbst (at right), vice president of mental and behavioral health at Children’s.

The United Health Foundation has awarded Children’s Wisconsin a $2.5 million grant to establish a crisis response team in its emergency department.

The three-year grant will make the ED crisis response team available 24 hours a day for children with mental and behavioral health needs. 

Children’s Wisconsin said it will be the first urgent mental health system of care dedicated solely to pediatric patients in southeastern Wisconsin.

It also addresses a critical need, Children’s said. Currently, families must either go to the Milwaukee County Psychiatric Crisis Service, a local ED, or wait for an outpatient appointment. The health system estimates the new team will support 800 children a year.

The team will include a Medical College of Wisconsin pediatric psychiatrist, three mental and behavioral health social workers and a supervisor, and a mental and behavioral health navigator who will help patients with accessing care and care transitions. 

“The United Health Foundation recognizes the need for continued innovation and improvements in behavioral health services for people of all ages,” said Ellen Sexton, chief executive officer of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin. “This partnership will allow one of the leading pediatric hospitals in the country to expand and enhance mental health services and access for children. At this unprecedented time in history, our hope is the program becomes a model that can be replicated in locations across the country.” 

The United Health Foundation and Children’s initiated the partnership prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but said it is particularly timely as mental health issues and substance use disorders are exacerbated during times of uncertainty and fear. Prior to the pandemic, hospitals were seeing an increase in visits by children for mental health emergencies. 

“It is troubling to know pediatric behavioral health needs are increasing nationwide. But it is extremely heartening to know that the United Health Foundation is funding programs that will help to address these needs,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. “Support for excellent health care institutions like Children’s Wisconsin will help to provide even better care to Wisconsin children and their families. For this, I am grateful. We all benefit.”

In November 2019, Children’s unveiled a $150 million plan to address growing mental and behavioral health needs among Wisconsin children over the next five years.

A 2017 Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health report showed kids and teens in Wisconsin are hospitalized for a mental health condition at more than four times the national rate, and the state’s youth suicide rate increased more than the national rate from 2015 to 2016, and is significantly higher than most of the United States.

The United Health Foundation grant will help meet a $15 million challenge, which was made by an anonymous donor and announced earlier this year. 

“This generous gift from the United Health Foundation allows us to implement a critical piece of our plan to improve access to mental and behavioral health services for Wisconsin kids,” said Peggy Troy, president and CEO of Children’s Wisconsin. “We recognize that we must do more to support the mental and behavioral health needs of our kids. While the ultimate goal is to identify and provide resources before a crisis occurs, improving services in our emergency department is a step we need to take right now.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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